Set up in response to the coalition government’s cuts to disability benefit, The Broken of Britain campaign has been an inspiration to all those who wish to change politics for the better and stand up for what they believe in; campaign member Kaliya Franklin, who blogs at Benefit Scrounging Scum, writes about the battle so far
October 2010 seems a distant memory now. Six months is a long time in politics – made longer by the sheer volume of misery and despair heaped upon Britain’s chronically sick and/or disabled people by the coalition government.
Whilst Conservative MPs whooped and cheered each announcement of cuts to disability benefits and services, disabled people watched in horror.
The proposals to remove the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from care home residents were championed under the banner of removing double funding. A decision hypocritical in the extreme from a government determined to embrace the personalisation agenda of increasing individual control over one’s care.
Were there any genuine concerns about double funding, the more sensible option would have been to ensure those few local authorities who actually provide transport funding to care homes ceased to do so.
Although the removal of the mobility component for state funded care home residents was one of the smaller cuts announced, it triggered a wave of fury from the disabled community never seen before. Knowing that this payment was to fund powerwheelchairs or adapted vehicles, the lack of humanity and cruelty in such a decision seemed incomprehensible to us, particularly from the father of a profoundly disabled child.
I made a video letter to David Cameron which rapidly went viral as it seemed to reflect the wider feeling of horror that the most vulnerable in society had been targeted by his cuts, and an article was independently written in the Guardian by Rhydian Fon James confirming that the coalition’s targeting of disabled people was the wrong fight.
From those humble beginnings The Broken of Britain was born. Like many of the anti-cuts groups we evolved on Twitter, extending our existing networks to decide upon a name and a purpose. Within a few days another video had been made, encouraging disabled people to come together for the forthcoming fight, a blog was started and a forum created for people to have a discussion space.
Our first task was to ask people to send us their stories of how they came to be sick, disabled and reliant on benefits – the tales were harrowing. We heard from:
• Parents whose children had been so severely injured in car crashes they couldn’t tell their own story;
• Ex-servicemen still mentally ill years after the conflict they were involved in left our news screens;
• Couples who had avoided claiming benefits for as long as possible, until they had no choice and were refused support as they were deemed ‘fit for work';
• People who had repeatedly attempted suicide as a direct result of being refused benefits and many more.
…the common theme amongst the personal histories was how many people had worked all their lives, had paid their taxes and National Insurance in the expectation the state would care for them in their time of need, and how bewildered and betrayed they all were to find that was not the case.
Slowly the media began to contact us and ask for our opinions on the allegedly ‘compassionately Conservative’ cuts.
More videos were made challenging the accuracy of the government’s claims about benefit fraud. The stories continued to pour in from people as diverse as full-time journalists to GPs explaining the problems with the system as they see it – we were overwhelmed by the number of people contacting us. Particular thanks are owed to Helly Copeland and Emma Crees for their support during the early days and to Rebelgrrlzine for her bravery in posting her own video story.
By December we were preparing our response to the government’s Disability Living Allowance consultation.
Rhydian developed into a seemingly unstoppable political powerhouse and proceeded to demolish the case for DLA reform before moving on to create a ‘write-in’ campaign for people to contact their own MPs and the minister for disabled people Maria Miller. Rhydian also challenged the government about the abolition of the Independent Living Fund and submitted the first of our complaints to the Press Complaints Commission about the Daily Mail.
Our social media and marketing expert Lisa J Ellwood was also on board by Christmas and wrote this piece, ‘Disability Activism: A Just And Worthy Cause’, espousing the philosophy of The Broken of Britain, using the words of Albus Dumbledore to make our point clear:
“It is our choices my friends, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. These are dark times and the moment is already upon us when we must choose between what is easy and what is right. We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
We returned with a New Year’s Message and a call for contributions to be included in the Broken of Britain submission for the consultation on DLA reform, originally planned to close on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. In response to this timing we planned a campaign called One Month Before Heartbreak to highlight the damage which would be done if these ‘reforms’ go ahead.
Despite the government disregarding their own consultation by announcing the details of DLA reform before the consultation officially ended, the campaign, run by Emma Crees, was a huge success with hundreds of contributions from individuals and publications such as Community Care magazine and Society Guardian also participating.
Also in January we had our first major political successes with the Welsh Assembly coming out in support of our concerns about DLA reform. This was closely followed by Daffyd Wigley’s promise to be a champion for disability rights as he took up his seat in the House of Lords and Hywel Williams’s tabling of an Early Day Motion (EDM) on the Disability Living Allowance consultation. This was followed in February by the Scottish Parliament tabling a motion to condemn DLA reform.
January was a busy month for The Broken of Britain. We also called for the cabinet office to investigate employment minister Chris Grayling’s potential transgression of the ministerial code for politicised press releases from the Department for Work and Pensions and again called for the PCC to investigate the Daily Mail. At the close of the month we issued our final call for submissions to the DLA consultation.We produced an extensive but by no means exhaustive list of the cuts affecting sick people, disabled people and carers and finalised our petition against the flawed DLA reform consultation, signed by more than 5,000 people.
There was no let up in the frantic pace during February as we announced Project V asking people to send Valentine’s cards to their own MPs and minister Maria Miller to remind them not to break our hearts and continued collecting MPs’ signatures for our EDM against the reform consultation. The Welfare Reform Bill was introduced on February 16 and Rhydian put together a prompt and damning analysis of its impact upon disabled people.
This was followed by the announcement from Professor Paul Gregg – the designer of Employment Support Allowance brought in by the previous Labour government – that the current Work Capability Assessment was not only “badly malfunctioning” but that “the current assessment is a complete mess”. Strongly backed up by the Social Security Advisory Committee questioning the governments motives for reforming DLA. A few days later the first of the open letters backed by The Broken of Britain as well as MPs such as Jon Cruddas and John McDonnell was published in The Guardian.
On March 7 we launched Left Out In The Cold using a stark image of a naked disabled woman on a snow covered beach lying just out of reach of her wheelchair, described by one PR professional as “stopping them in their tracks”.
Left Out In The Cold also featured an open letter published in the Guardian, signed by 100 MPs, members of the House Of Lords, doctors, academics, artists and disability rights campaigners as well as template letters for people to send to their MPs, articles and information about why we are opposing the Welfare Reform Bill.
All the hard work and efforts of the many people involved in our campaign was highlighted by this article in the Guardian about how disabled people are coming together to use technological tools to find our protesting voice. The government’s whitewash response to the consultation on Disability Living Allowance, whilst disappointing to us all, came as no real surprise and just strengthened our determination to fight harder.
On April 4 we launched our #fitforwork campaign. The campaign was picked up by both local and national media and is still going strong on Twitter. A few days later we formally launched it, including the #dwp45 hashtag to allow people some much needed humour. Some of us wrote the stories of our working lives to illustrate the difficulties faced by both disabled people and potential employers.
We also issued our brief on the government’s response to the DLA consultation and heard some heartening support from Margaret Curran (shadow minister for Disabled People) and Labour backbencher Kate Green. We continued to ask people to send in their evidence for the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into ESA.
Also in April, Rhydian investigated the impact of cutting care provision on human rights and I was visited by the Robin Hood Tax tour. The fabulous Sue Marsh appeared on BBC Radio London to talk about the constant media attacks demonising benefit claimants as scroungers and yet again The Broken of Britian had to complain to the PCC about the Daily Mail.
More support came from Hwyel Williams in the form of two EDMs against the abolition of DLA and the time limiting of ESA which we are currently urging people to email or write to their MPs asking them to sign. Even if your MP won’t sign, it is still worth sending them the EDMs as it demonstrates the level of opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill.
It’s been an absolutely exhausting six months for us all, and the pressure is still on. We have gained skills, knowledge and experience, perhaps most importantly in the way disabled people can work together and what we need to enable us to do so. Using a small core group and a much larger group of volunteers able to give their time has demonstrated the potential possibilities for disabled people in employment.
By using the tools available to us from our homes, and often from our beds, we are able to do as much or as little as we can manage. We are learning to adapt to the very different needs of disabled people, chronically sick people and those with mental health issues, all of which require their own solutions to make working viable and seek alternatives to the traditional workplace roles.
It is disappointing given this insight that none of those options are currently being explored by any of the main political parties. Something as basic as incentivising employers to employ disabled people to work on a part time, from home basis would be one of the simplest, cheapest and most welcome actions to involve disabled people in the paid workforce.
The battles to come will make those we have already fought look easy, but the answer to our success so far is simple. As sick, disabled or mentally ill people we all recognise that we are not just fighting for financial benefits but for our continued existence. The road which starts with labelling us as financially unsustainable ends in our persecution.
Dramatic though it may seem, history demonstrates this to us over and over again. When one group of humans is labelled as less worthy, less human than another, whether that be because of the colour of their skin, their religious beliefs, sexual preferences or disability the lessons are clear. No group of people are of innately less value than any other, and in circumstances where they are labelled as such, blood is always shed along the path to freedom.
We return to our founding principle:
“Alone we whisper; together we shout.”